Diverse Cultural Centers
by Tegan Colton
Lincoln, a relatively small midwestern city, is home to a mosaic of cultures representing members of every community in the world.
Evidence peppered throughout the city includes local restaurants like Vung Tau, Ajora Falls, Blessing, Stur 22, Daffodil, and The Oven, which serve authentic Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Thai, Caribbean, Persian and Indian food, respectively. Public cultural events light up Lincoln throughout the year and include the annual Dutch Festival, Lunar New Year celebrations and the Harvest Moon festival.
Perhaps less obvious are the various cultural centers that make these events—and the resettlement of immigrants who host them—possible.
During an ISIS-led genocide in 2014, Nebraska accepted more Yazidi refugees per capita than any other state, and Lancaster County is the 18th largest resettlement area for Asian immigrants and refugees in the nation. More than half of the state’s refugees live in Lincoln and include those from more than 40 countries including Syria, Bosnia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Mexico, Russia, Kurdistan, Sudan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Myanmar and others. Thanks to the many vibrant cultural centers around the area, refugees who resettle to Lincoln can blossom and thrive as they work their way toward citizenship.
These centers also provide a place for immigrants, refugees and bi-cultural people to find comfort in group settings at which their native languages and cultures are embraced or practiced. For the Lincoln immigrant, these centers can feel like a brief visit home and a breath of fresh air. For Lincoln natives, they offer a chance to learn and experience the cultures of others. Visitors and volunteers are always welcome.
Asian Community and Cultural Center, 144 N. 44th Street
Established in 1992, the Asian Community and Cultural Center provides a place where Asian-Americans and immigrants join together to share their heritage and promote each other’s well-being. The office on North 44th Street boasts bilingual staff and, since 2006, has served as a hub for all recently arrived refugees, regardless of national origin. The center provides intensive English-language classes three times a week including advanced writing and pronunciation classes, along with weekly citizenship classes. It offers support groups for people of all ages in Arabic, Vietnamese, Karen and other languages. Along with English, the center also teaches Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Korean and hosts public events throughout the year including the Lunar New Year Festival, the Harvest Moon Festival, international fish fries and cultural bazaars.
Clyde Malone Community Center, 2032 U Street
The Clyde Malone Community Center is dedicated to strengthening and empowering the African-American community in Lincoln by hosting educational, cultural and advocacy programs for people of all backgrounds. The Malone Center provides high-quality early childhood education to low-income families, as well as a leadership academy for ambitious high schoolers. The center also provides an after-school program that gives children and youth 5 to 13 a range of supervised activities designed to encourage learning and development. In addition, it provides services for elderly people to help enhance their daily lives and increase their independence. The Malone Center always welcomes volunteers for everything from supervising preschool to helping out at special events.
El Centro de las Americas, 210 O Street
El Centro de las Americas, founded in 1982, provides education, family support, youth empowerment, health and help navigating resources for Lincoln’s Hispanic community. El Centro offers GED classes in Spanish for those 17 and older, as well as citizenship tutoring and one-on-one computer literacy tutoring. Additionally, El Centro partners with Lincoln Literacy to provide English classes to improve literacy and employability. El Centro hosts weekly Zoomba classes for friends and families to enjoy dancing together, sponsors women’s support groups and throws a variety of Latino cultural events and fundraisers throughout the year including Wine! Chocolate! Tango! at the Cornhusker Hotel, where people can experience Latino culture with food, wine, traditional dancing and heaps of delicious artisan chocolate.
Yazidi Cultural Center, 300 N. 27th Street
Lincoln’s Yazidi Cultural Center provides a communal space for Yazidis who resettled to Lincoln in the aftermath of the 2014 genocide. Since then, Lincoln has become home to the largest community of Yazidi refugees in the U.S.A. The center is part of a larger national organization called Yazda, dedicated to providing a home and a caring, loving community to Yazidi victims of enslavement, violence, kidnapping and displacement. It offers classes in basic American rights and those to prepare refugees for citizenship. The center also provides English and Kurmanji classes to help integrate refugees into American culture while preserving their own. It promotes events that celebrate Yazidi history, holidays, cultures and traditions to help the Lincoln refugees feel more at home in their new country.
Confucius Institute, 900 N. 16th Street
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Confucius Institute serves to connect Nebraskans to Chinese language, culture and history. Established in 2007 in a partnership with Xi’an Jiaotong University, the institute has counted more than 17,000 students among its members and has hosted thousands more visitors. The Confucius Institute offers an array of educational opportunities, including Chinese-language classes for both children and adults, classes in traditional Chinese cooking and options for homestay trips and chances to study in China. In addition, it hosts calligraphy classes, dance classes, culture studies and history lessons on ancient dynasties. Every year, the institute also hosts elaborate events for the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, at which people can see traditional dragon dances and enjoy sticky-sweet moon cakes. The Confucius Institute hopes to be a bridge between American and Chinese cultures and aims to connect Americans to China’s rich history while providing a place for Chinese-Americans to preserve their native culture.
Indian Center, 1100 Military Road
The Indian Center has been providing programs that empower Lincoln’s Native population and improve their self-sufficiency since 1969. The center has hosted powwows, provided food for senior citizens and been a beloved local space that inspires Native cultural education and acceptance. In late 2018, the center nearly shut down because of mismanagement and severe debt, but Lincolnites stepped in and barred this from happening, donating personal funds to keep the center open and help it reimagine itself.
Although Lincoln is small, it harbors an immense wealth of cultures, people and traditions from all over the world.